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Imaginary Friends
by Gil A. Waters

I was a bland and humorless child. The causes of this condition are legion. Start with the combed-over, slicked-down hair, parted just above my left ear and extending in a single horrifying mass all the way to my right ear. Throw in debilitating shyness, paralyzing social anxiety, and a genetic inability to catch, hit, throw, or run while holding a ball of any kind, and you have the makings of one sorry specimen of American boyhood — me.  And it was all down hill as I made my way into an awkward adolescence and dysfunctional young adulthood: glasses with lenses as thick as bricks, volcanic pustules of cystic acne, and a nearly terminal case of protracted virginity.

As if I didn’t have enough somatic and psychological barriers separating me from the rest of humanity, I also had the misfortune of being born to parents who refused to lie to me. From the moment I was old enough to ask questions, they heartlessly provided me with real answers. Where do babies come from? Who puts the presents under the Christmas tree? No stork or Santa Claus; just sexual intercourse and rampant consumerism. Like a little missionary, I brought my joyless brand of objectivity to the juvenile masses. More than a few children shed tears of disbelief as I assured them that they were the product of hideous fluid exchanges between their parents, who also consumed the milk and cookies left for jolly Saint Nick. Not surprisingly, I had few real friends as a child, and I certainly wasn’t about to create an imaginary one. All I could do was bide my time until the magical day when age and maturity would dispel the fog of delusion from the minds of my brethren. With the exception of a few magical epiphanies, I am still waiting for that day to arrive.

Thankfully, I no longer live in a world populated by Easter Bunnies and Monsters Under The Bed. But I have been forever ruined as a member of polite society when it comes to the topic of “God.” No matter how hard I try, I can never wrap my mind around the fact that so many people I meet, even seemingly rational and intelligent individuals, believe that the Judeo-Christian god, or the Islamic god, or the Hindu gods, are really real. Why would you let go of the unseen imaginary friend from your childhood, only to replace him or her with another who is just as invisible?

I’ve heard countless times that it’s a matter of “faith,” yet that doesn’t explain the intellectual quandary that “faith” presents. I might have faith in my belief that the aluminum-foil hat I wear is essential to prevent my mind from being controlled by the aliens who follow me around and beam telepathic waves at my head. But that faith probably won’t win many followers to my faith-based belief system, and probably won’t prevent my institutionalization in a psychiatric hospital.

All of which is to say that the line between faith and delusion has always seemed to be non-existent from my perspective. If you’re going to believe in an invisible supreme being for which there is no evidence, why not continue to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, too? Which gets me back to the root off my psychosocial problem: If my parents had just let me believe in Santa Claus as a child, maybe my mind would be better equipped for the intellectual gymnastics required to believe in “God” as an adult. I’d get mad at my parents for leaving me in my present existential predicament, but they’re dead. Hopefully, they’re in heaven as well, so I can give them hell in the after-life for all the trouble they caused me in this one.